Free & Cheap Ways to Treat Yourself – Pandemic Edition!

During the pandemic, I’ve found it’s very beneficial to maintain, and perhaps even ramp up my self care activities. My mind, body and soul appreciates the effort I put in, especially during times when my mental health is struggling a bit. I think it’s important to “treat yourself” once in awhile to have something to look forward to in the dragging days of this seemingly never-ending Viral Nightmare.

I thought it would be nice to compile a list of self care activities or “treats” that are relatively inexpensive, or even FREE, that are therefore in line with a “shooting for financial independence” or even an “already financially independent” lifestyle. In these times, they also need to be pandemic-friendly, so I’ve tried to limit it to things you do alone, virtually, or with your “people bubble”. I have done many of these, and can confirm they do actually help you feel more relaxed, mentally positive, and taken care of! Some items on the list were contributed by friends I interviewed who highly recommended their own self-care activities. Thank you, friends!



We all know that exercise is one of the best self-care activities out there. That said, it’s not really traditionally thought of as a “treat”, unless you are REALLY into exercise. Here are some of my favourite free/cheap ways to get exercise while also making it kind of fun and treat-y, because that seems important to my brain.

 1.  YouTube, Baby! There are TONS of free & fun workouts on YouTube. Here are some I enjoy:

    • I like to dance by myself alone where no one can see me, so I started watching the Fitness Marshall who is basically dancing his way across Youtube with his super-cool backup dancers. I’ve only done a few but it’s always a good time to attempt the moves.
    • Chloe Ting. She can kick my ass but at least she has lots of short workouts to chose from that are doable in a quick timeframe. I wouldn’t say these are AS FUN as the others but at least the pain is short. Plus, she’s frickin’ adorable.
  • 15 Min Full Body Workout 💪 Home Routine with Dumbbells - YouTube
      Chloe’s 15 minute body weight workout
    • If you have never tried Yoga, you must do it at least once. I COMMAND YOU! After even just 20 minutes of stretching and bending, I feel more limber and relaxed – something like the feeling you get after a long massage. Yoga also has the positive side effect of strengthening muscles and increasing flexibility, thereby increasing your mobility as you age. I like Yoga with Adriene. There are tons of free classes from beginner to advanced. If you yoga with kids, I highly recommend Cosmic Kids Yoga. If you don’t want to say you’re doing Yoga, then just call it “artistic stretching”.
An alien character folding and bending
Purposeful folding by Nathan W. Pyle

2. Hikes in the woods. I am fortunate to have a large amount of woods to explore, literally in my backyard. If you don’t, get to googling some of the lesser known trails in your area. Nature is very good for the soul! If nature isn’t enough to make it fun for you, download the Geo

A man with a backpack in the woods
Photo by Kamaji Ogino from Pexels

caching app on your phone and pretend you are on a treasure hunt. There are likely caches anywhere you go, so you just need to bring along your phone to liven up your hike. This is extra fun if you are hiking with friends or family members.

Example: My 7 year old is a “reluctant” hiker, but when I break out the Geocaching app and tell him we’re hunting for treasure, it takes things up a notch. Along with snacks. Good snacks are a must for reluctant hikers.


3. Gardening. I planted a small “square foot” garden in Pandemic 2020 and plan to do it again in 2021. It’s not exactly a heart-pumping workout in terms of burning calories, but it’s still movement you otherwise would not do. It is not expensive, and it makes for good alone time. Or, you can do it with someone if you’re not an introvert like me. Container gardens are great too if you don’t have a yard. There is something therapeutic about getting into the dirt with your hands.

Overgrown Garden
T’s Pandemic Garden 2020

Explore New (or neglected) Hobbies

  1. Create things in a relaxing manner. It is important to not worry too much about the final product, and instead focus on the enjoyment of creating something new! A few examples I enjoy or would like to enjoy in the near future:
    • Painting is one of my favorite cheap hobbies, since you can get acrylics at the dollar store and decent brushes pretty cheap at the local craft store or on Amazon. In terms of what to paint on – the possibilities are endless! I like to paint on paper but I also like to paint on rocks and wood. One of my friendsa rock with a heart painted on it recently got into sketching. She likes to get out and sketch a local area, and asserts that any paper and pen/pencil will work. I have seen plenty of free sketching tutorials on YouTube to get you comfortable with the process!
    • Woodworking – look at free sections of online sites (FB Marketplace, Kijiji, Craig’s list, Buy Nothing Facebook groups) for free wood to create stuff with tools you already have. If you don’t already have tools, try your local “Buy Nothing” Facebook group to see if you could borrow what you need. Youtube, once again, is an awesome resource for tutorials.
    • Cooking or baking – try some new recipes, use an ingredient you’ve never tried before,  make that dish you had an a restaurant once that you want to try at home. There are endless possibilities for creative fun!
    • Home Improvement  – Something I want to get better at that will not only be enjoyable but will also save me money by doing things myself. Two different friends indicated that they find it very satisfying to organize areas of the home.  It could be as simple as organizing / styling a bookshelf, or tackling a larger project like a basement storage area. Purging some unneeded items can also help lighten the mental burden and is definitely a form of self-care for me.
    • Photography – Assuming you have a camera or smart phone already, you can create beautiful things for free! You can even use free photo editing software to touch up your creations, like GIMP. There are also many free / cheap tutorials online for both amateur photography and photo editing.

There is no pressure to make it perfect, just create stuff to get into a flow and relax your mind.

2. Get Immersed – Take time off to just dive into a compelling novel you’ve been meaning to read, or binge a show on Netflix. One friend mentioned that she took time to check out a few of her favorite books from childhood from the library to re-read. I have taken time to “get immersed” and actually scheduled it as a vacation from work. This way, I am home alone without distractions or needy people around. This will be more difficult if you are a stay-at-home parent or a caregiver, but if you can get childcare or caregiver help for a day, it’s worth it!

3. Learn a language – I’ve been working on my French a bit through the pandemic (admittedly I really need to ramp this up since my child is now bringing home his Grade 2 French Immersion books that I don’t fully understand). So far, I’ve been primarily using Duolingo (free web-based site + smartphone app). Once I finish with that, I’ll be completing the Rosetta Stone French program online through my local library. Check to see if your library offers you free access to Rosetta Stone!

4. Birdwatching – I’ve always wanted to make this an official hobby, but I’m not there yet. I love birds, and the idea of roaming the outdoors for elusive species appeals to me for a number of reasons. One, I get to hike in the woods or on beaches, which are places I love. Two, it sharpens my awareness of my surroundings. I am often distracted by my smartphone or other distracty things; it’s great to just focus on what is going on around me in an intentional way. If you are unable to get out, consider hanging a bird feeder to enjoy the comings and goings right at home. I LOVE these ones that stick to your window for up-close observation:

Other inexpensive ways to treat yourself

  1. Get a fancy coffee or tea (or other fancy beverage of your choosing) via the drive-thru for no people-contact if you have a vehicle, or order it for curbside pickup if you are on foot. Some shops also have apps which you can download to your smartphone and submit an order for pickup. Take it to a nearby park or nature area, and sip it slowly and luxuriously. My mom gave me this idea; she started doing it every couple of weeks early on in pandemic times to escape the house. I have done it a few times and it was heavenly! My personal go-to is a skinny cappuccino with cinnamon on top from Second Cup or a local coffee shop.

2. Make a fancy cocktail (or mock-tail, if you don’t drink) at home and coordinate it with a fun activity. In my area, we are able to order alcohol from the liquor store over the phone and do curbside pickup for a no-contact experience. Granted, this may not be cheap depending on the number of alcoholic ingredients in your cocktail! Think of it as an investment. You can make the same cocktail several times over, making the individual cost much less. This is a totally legitimate line of thinking, right? I do this at least once every couple of weeks and pair it with a fun activity, such as:

      • Hanging with the bubble family / friends
      • Watching a favorite program on TV
      • Virtual happy hour with friends who are not in your bubble!
      • Playing a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) with my gaming buddy!  We’ve been playing “Guild Wars 2” since the base game is huge and free. There are tons of hours of content to explore. My gaming buddy is in another city so this is a nice way for us to socialize while also killing dragons.
      • Reading a good novel
      • In the tub, reading a good novel (combining 3 treat activities together! This has to be a record…)

Other great suggestions from friends

      • Take a luxurious nap in some clean fresh bedding
      • Go for a drive and sing loudly to good tunes. I need to try this one!
      • At-home facial or other spa treatment. Use stuff you already have or check out the drug store for some inexpensive treatments
      • Intentional play time with your bubble pets
      • Try a dating app if you are single, or a relationship app to chat with new friends
      • Take a lesson in person if your area allows this; outdoor classes are becoming more popular too
      • Volunteer virtually or in person where this is possible
      • Attend a virtual concert alone or with friends

That’s probably a big enough list of ways to treat yourself for now. I hope it inspires you to do something you enjoy that is just for you! What other free or inexpensive treats do you like to give yourself during the pandemic? Please let me know in the comments below!

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10 Replies to “Free & Cheap Ways to Treat Yourself – Pandemic Edition!”

  1. LOVE this! There really are so many free, inexpensive and healthy ways to treat yourself. This is a fantastic list!

    I am guilty of not having done much yoga in my life. It’s always been on my list, but I’ve just never found the time to do it! I think it’s time to change that. 😬

    Thanks for sharing, my friend! So many great ideas here.

  2. I think that this kind of advice is also super important for FIRE members (or just financially-centered people). When you’re chasing a financial goal it can be easy to get sucked into tracking your progress everyday and neglect other aspects of your life. However, it’s important to remember that many aspects of a financially free life are things that you can already implement into your daily life (like walks in the forest, exercise, etc.). Thanks for sharing!

  3. Love these ideas! So simple but when you are in the trenches you just need to be reminded! My DH has been gone the entire week at a work conference. My 3 year old was at school this morning and I was at the store with my 6 mo. old and I totally bought a treat for myself! It was great!

    1. I agree Jasmine…shooting for FI can make me sad sometimes, as do pandemics and working for the man. A little treat or self care can improve my mood 🙂

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